Converting Your Money to Korean Won
Get your KRW in South Korea.
- You will almost always get a better rate if you withdraw or exchange your money in South Korea.
- Withdrawing from global ATMs is the most convenient way of getting KRW.
- Second best option: stop by a money changer, which can be easily found inside the airport and in popular tourist destinations like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Gangnam, or Itaewon.
- If you want to feel secured by having some KRW with you before leaving your country, you may bring in as little as ₩40,000 (around ₱1,900 or $37), which should be enough for a one-way all-stop train ticket + an unlimited data sim card. Trust me, it's best to exchange most of your pocket money in South Korea.
- Card acceptance is high! You may use your credit or debit cards in major establishments.
Also read: T-Money Your Way in Korea
Familiarize yourself with South Korea's bank notes to speed up your cash transactions in the CVS (Convenience Store) or the train station.
For accurate conversion of PHP to KRW, you may use the calculator here.
Image credit: Korea Tourism Organization
Getting Cash from ATMs
This is your best bet for two reasons: convenience and competitive rates.
You will easily spot an ATM when you walk towards the Customs gate. These machines accept foreign-issued cards and can operate in English.
If you run out of cash in the middle of your trip, you may also find an ATM in a subway station or some convenience stores like 7-Eleven. Just look for the 'Global ATM' sign and your card's logo before making the transaction.
You can also get money from machines operated by Korea Exchange Bank, Shinhan Bank, Citibank, and Woori Bank. Most are available to use 24/7, but do note that some ATMs stop servicing after midnight.
Some might get the Error Message while trying to withdraw money even from a Global ATM. In this rare occasion, try getting cash from another machine. If you still get the same message, worry not and call your bank's 24/7 hotline. Fixes or authorizations should happen in less than an hour.
As a general rule, if you're unsure whether your card's activated for international use, visit your branch ahead of your trip to have your card activated.
Money Changers in South Korea
Second best way to get Korean Won is by going to a money changer. You will find bank booths offering foreign currency exchange service as soon as you arrive.
If you'll be coming from Incheon International Airport, you will find a Shinhan Bank in B1F - Transportation Center, a KEB Hana Bank in B1F - Passenger Terminal West, and a Woori Bank in B1F - Passenger Terminal East. If you're entering via Gimpo International Airport, you will see a Shinhan Bank and a Woori Bank in the Domestic Terminal 1F.
These bank booths officially follow the standard 9am-4pm business hours, though you might find some of them open 24/7 to accommodate travelers arriving in the wee hours of the night, i.e. Woori Bank near the Arrivals area in Incheon.
You will not have a hard time converting your local money in the airport. Simply prepare your passport and cash, and you'll have your Won in no time.
Alternatively, if you don't want to exchange all your money in Incheon, there are also several FOREX stations found in Myeongdong (near Chinese Embassy), Dongdaemun, and Itaewon (Some bank outlets can be found right outside the station). They can easily be spotted in these touristy places, so you need not worry about finding them online. (They usually bear the No Commission or Best Price sign.)
Money exchange booth near Myeongdong Station.
I found that transacting with standalone money changers is very convenient. Most of them are open from 8am through 8pm, though some operate 24/7 too to cater to late-night shoppers. Furthermore, they would not require you to present your passport, which makes transactions faster.
As a word of caution, always make sure that you're transacting with a legitimate money changer or you might find yourself getting low rates or, worse, fake money. Try to avoid random people that offer you money exchange services in the streets or those operating in a shabby-looking booth on the sidewalk.
Bringing in Some Won
If you feel the need to have some KRW in your pocket even before arriving, that's understandable. Just make sure to reserve ahead from your branch of account, trusted money changers, or business service centers.
I would suggest anywhere around ₩40,000 (around ₱1,900 or $37), which should get you an all-stop train ticket and a sim card for starters. Convert the rest of your pocket money in South Korea to get more value.
If you'll bring in bank notes and traveler's cheque worth at least $10,000 (around ₱500,000), you are required to make a customs declaration.
Going cashless? Major establishments like hotels, supermarkets, retail outlets, malls, CVS, and restaurants accept credit and debit cards. Visa, Mastercard, and AMEX are widely accepted, as well as cards bearing the Plus and Cirrus Logos.
When in doubt, always check with the cute clerk if you can pay by card.
- Before you exit the Arrivals Gate of ICN Terminal 1, you will spot a Woori Bank foreign exchange booth. Skip that and find the other Woori booth at the actual arrivals area; they have slightly better rates.
- Are you thinking of converting your PHP to USD before exchanging it to KRW? If you do the Math, you're most likely to get less Won. This should only make sense if you already have the USD in hand.
- Don't go from one money changer to another just to find the best rates. Maybe check out two or three, and that's it. More than this, you'll only be wasting time and energy. Unless, heaven forbid, it's part of your itinerary.
Know that PHP is easily exchangeable in South Korea. As noted above, you may easily buy KRW in the airport or in touristy places like Itaewon and Myeongdong.
Like ManilaxSeoul on Facebook to get the latest travel guides and tips!